Federal funding from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will put $1 million in the hands of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to create a five-year program aimed at battling opioid overdoses. ANET, as it’s called — short for Arkansas Naloxone Education Training program — will teach health care providers in Arkansas “how to talk with patients and communities about harm-reduction resources available in Arkansas, particularly naloxone,” UAMS researcher Meghan Breckling said. Breckling, currently an assistant professor in the hospital’s College of Pharmacy, will be at the helm of the new program.
So what will the money do? UAMS intends to recruit and teach 125 naloxone education trainers in Arkansas over the next year, partnering with organizations like Central Arkansas Harm Reduction, Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network, East Arkansas Family Health Center and Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services in Pulaski County.
Those trainers will then “target Arkansas populations likely to benefit from increased knowledge and access to naloxone,” according to the UAMS press release, “including individuals at high risk of opioid overdose. They will also aim to reach those who may be more vulnerable to accidental opioid poisonings, such as adolescents and older adults taking opioids acutely or chronically.” Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, is an extremely effective opioid overdose reversal drug, administered as a nasal spray. More on that here.
This is big news in the world of harm reduction, an effective but too-often marginalized strategy in the world of opioid abatement and recovery. Because opioid addiction is so powerful, addicted people often can’t step immediately into abstinence-based recovery programs, and using Narcan to revive someone who’s overdosed is a crucial first step. As Amber Kincaid of Central Arkansas Harm Reduction told us earlier this year, “you can’t make decisions about your health if you’re dead.”
Each trainer will be expected to deliver two community-based naloxone education classes per year, using a curriculum developed in part by UAMS Health AR ConnectNow and the UAMS Center for Addiction Services and Treatment (CAST). The program’s goal, UAMS said, is for each trainer to train “at least 10 or more individuals during each class, which would result in more than 7,500 Arkansans receiving naloxone education training through 2028.”
Tuesday’s news followed an announcement in August that $1.3 million in federal aid from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) was awarded to battle fentanyl overdoses in rural areas of Arkansas. Meanwhile, the state launched the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership to oversee the distribution of the $250 million Arkansas will collect over the next dozen years in settlement money won in litigation against the pharmaceutical companies, drug store chains and other businesses that profited from the nation’s opioid epidemic. Applications for funding through the partnership went live in November of 2022.